Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pacific Rim review

Before I begin this review I'd like to warn you guys that there will be some spoilers. So if you haven't seen Pacific Rim go see it now before you read this. It's well worth your time and money, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

When I first heard about Pacific Rim I was immediately hyped for this movie. It's one thing to finally get a movie that takes mecha and kaiju, two of my favorite things about Japanese media, and bring them together for a giant rumble, it's another to finally have an original film in a world where adaptations and sequels reign supreme. Sure, original films aren't extinct (yet) but they're hard to come by in mainstream media. Normally, you have to go onto the independent circuit to find original stories and most of the time they fail to grab you the right way. The last feature film I saw that I considered to be "original" (in that it's not based on previously existing media) was Oblivion, and I loved the heck out of that movie.

In my pattern of thinking, Pacific Rim was a movie that encapsulated genres that Del Toro and his co-creators loved as children. This was a similar thinking process the Wachowskis had when filming the original Matrix. They had a love of anime, sci-fi, and kung-fu movies and wanted to make a movie that had all those things and went about making a plot capable of having those aspects. It was the fact that Del Toro and company were inspired to make a movie, as opposed to be driven to revive a dead franchise due to brand recognition, that attracted me to this movie.

So, does Pacific Rim manage to hold its own, or does it fall apart due to poor manufacturing? Well that's a complicated question to answer as the film does get so many things right, as well as many other things wrong. While it succeeds in delivering a spectacular action film overall, some aspects of the film hold it back from being as good as it should be. Whether it's the characterization to the plot, there are some things that just could've been better.

To start, I'd like to mention just how fun this movie is. I sometimes feel I had more fun watching this film than I really should have, and that's because it is a genuinely fun film. Watching giant robots punch and hack away at giant monsters is, naturally, going to be fun to watch. You'd have to try to make it dull or down right unwatchable. You can't help but get sucked into the action when you see the Jaegers take on the kaiju. Right then and there, that should be enough for most people. The trailers for this film have made this movie out to be a giant slugfest between monster and machine and you get what's advertised. Better yet, the action is actually easy to follow (suck it Michael Bay!), that is, if you're not watching the movie in 3D (suck it James Cameron!).

I actually viewed the film in both 2D and 3D, and while the 3D isn't terrible (and let's face it, on a good day 3D will lightly rape your eye sockets) the movie has a tendency to rain on you to get the feeling of depth. Sadly, this can render some of the action scenes completely incomprehensible. However, I attribute this to the fact that the crappy 3D glasses the theater gave me kept getting a glare. (I will probably end up writing a whole other entry on 3D for another time.)

The film is rich in visuals, from the giant Jaegers to the set designs, and it helps craft a world that I wish I had gotten to see more of before the credits rolled. A majority of the film takes place in a giant Jaeger silo called The Shatterdome, and this place is just brimming with amazing design. I'm a sucker for old, metallic, war bunker-like designs, and The Shatterdome feels like a mix between an old WWII bunker and the Nebuchadnezzar from The Matrix. However, if military bunkers aren't your thing the film also shows us a bit of a city that was built around the bones of a dead kaiju. Sadly, we never actually get to explore the world after the kaiju in that much detail and most elements the film presents are easily lost in the background.

This is one issue of the film: it never truly sells us on a world devastated by the kaiju. Most of the time, the movie just tells us what the world's like, instead of showing. We get to see fragments from news reels and television shows about how humanity responded to the kaiju threat over the years, all set to a narration that explains the gist of what's going on, but we never truly get to see this for ourselves. Not only that, but most places we do see don't look all that worse off. For instance, we see a kaiju attack Australia, and everything is rather pristine for the most part, even the Sydney Opera House is still standing after all this time. We are constantly told that humanity is barely holding their own against the kaiju, but we never truly see it. Sure, we get the point that things are dire due to the fact that there are only four Jaegars left to defend humanity, but it wasn't enough in my opinion.

When it comes to the overall plot of the film, well I honestly can't say I was expecting something on the level of The Dark Knight. And I feel it would be a little unfair to expect a movie about giant robots fighting monsters to have a tone of brooding and deep storytelling (even though some animes have done it in the past). No, the plot manages to be just what a film like this needs to be: simple. Sure, it could've done something to keep the plot from being stale, but overall it does what it sets out to do: to justify the reason why we have giant robots fighting giant monsters. However, I do feel the plot is a little too upbeat for its own good, especially considering what it presents us with.

While I am more than sick and tired of movies about darkness and brooding, the fact of the matter is that a lot of the characters in Pacific Rim manage to be a little too upbeat than they really should be. The film constantly tells us that the world is on the brink of total destruction, yet no one really acts like it is (apart from Idris Elba's badass commander Stacker Pentecost). This is especially notable with characters faced with severe trauma the likes of which no one has ever experienced. The best example of this is in Charlie Hunnam's character, Becket. The beginning of the film has Becket lose his co-pilot and brother during a kaiju battle. This would be scarring for anyone but, due to the technology used in piloting Jaegers, pilots are mind melded together as one entity. The film tells us Becket is horribly traumatized by this experience, but we never really see it. Once, and only once, in the movie do we see this trauma interfere with his ability to pilot a Jaeger. After that, he's fine. The film doesn't explore how Becket must feel after, essentially, feeling a part of himself die right before his eyes. This is sad considering the film presents us with a unique way to explore it, through the mind melding experience the film calls "drifting." And it doesn't take that much time to get him back into a Jaeger after that.

This is, sadly, due to the fact that the film is aware that the real selling point are the epic fights. However, this results in some very shoddy pacing that jumps through important character moments to get to the next big set-piece. This can be seen throughout the film where we go from Charlie Day's eccentric kaiju researcher Newton to emotional bonding between Becket and Rinko Kikuchi's Mako in the span of seconds. The various plots feel disjointed and rushed, which can be somewhat jarring. The film manages to forget that no matter how awesome the fights may be, it won't matter if we don't have a bond with the characters.

Speaking of characters, the film is full of them! Characters ranging from partially fleshed out to outright cartoony can be found here. As I mentioned above, the film doesn't spend much time on the characters, and it suffers for that. The most interesting character is Mako, and Rinko Kikuchi manages to be lovable enough to keep her character from being flat. This is the same for most of the characters, as all of them manage to keep from being outright annoying, even the jerkass Australian pilot who serves as Becket's nemesis for most of the movie manages to be at least likable in some sense. However, it's Charlie Day's Newton and Burn Gorman's Dr. Gottlieb that stand out as truly cartoony characters, Gottlieb more so than Newton. Both rant techno babble at light speed to the point where they nearly become grating. And then there's Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau, a black market dealer in kaiju body parts who, apparently, doesn't know the meaning of subtle. While Perlman manages to be entertaining as the gold-plated criminal, he really stands out among the more grounded characters. Overall, I never found myself hating any of the characters, and I was a bit bummed out when some of them died. However, I do feel the film could've done more with the characters, as well as handled them more efficiently.

    As I continue to analyse the film the more flaws I keep turning over, yet, at the end of the day, the film is greater than the sum of its parts. While it definitely could've been more, it certainly could've been less and when it comes down to it Pacific Rim manages to be entertaining without insulting your intelligence. The actors manage to make more of their characters than what was probably on paper and it would've been really easy to make most of these characters boring if not downright unlikable. The story serves only to take us from one big fight after another, which may be unforgivable but you can't really blame the filmmakers for doing. Many will come for the fights, and will undoubtedly be satisfied with the fights the film gives us. When you get right down to it, Pacific Rim is an example of when style manages to outdo substance. It's a ridiculously fun movie to watch, and you will most likely end up liking it more than you really should.

I give Pacific Rim 8 giant mechs wrestling with kaiju out of 10.

1 comment:

  1. Had a great time because it's a big, loud, dumb, and action-packed movie, but it always stays fun and that's what mattered. Nice review Tom.